OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Bernard Pollard has a question for the NFL: Where is the money going?
Each year, NFL players are subject to various fines, most often for illegal hits, such as connecting helmet to helmet, chop blocks that aren't within the rules and excessive face mask penalties.
So when a player is fined, Pollard, the Baltimore Ravens' strong safety, wants to know what the fined money goes toward. Pollard's teammate, safety Ed Reed, was fined $50,000 for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders during Baltimore's 13-10 win Sunday.
Reed initially was suspended for one game without pay for repeatedly violating the league's player safety rules, but an arbitrator overturned the suspension on appeal and instead handed out the $50,000 fine.
"You take $50,000 and us as players, we continue to ask where is this money going?" Pollard said. "They're continually taking away money from players for bogus stuff."
The NFL states that all fines go toward charitable causes, including the NFL Player Care Foundation and NFLPA Players Assistance Trust. Fines also have gone toward NFL-backed charities, such as disaster relief organizations and health care related initiatives.
In January 2010, the NFL gave the American Red Cross $500,000 of fine money to assist those in need after an earthquake ravaged Haiti.
Pollard was fined $7,875 after a face-mask penalty he received against Houston earlier this season, one he thought was unfair.
"You're going to tell me that an offensive player is able to stiff arm a defensive player, grab his face mask and throw him to the ground and y'all are perfectly OK with that and no flags are thrown," Pollard said. "But if we try to counter that to try to tackle him because he has our head jarred back, it's an $8,000 fine. That's bull crap."
And that's the bigger question at hand for the players — how are these fines decided? Some think it's become an unfair system that tries to group all illegal hits into a one-size-fits-all approach.
Former Ravens outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, now with the San Diego Chargers, said he felt the disciplinary decision handed to Reed was unwarranted. Though Johnson disagrees with using a helmet as a weapon on the field, he said it's difficult to avoid contact in that area at times.
"This is a fast-paced game, and if you make a good form-tackle, sometimes heads are going to hit," Johnson said. "I thought it was totally B.S. that they were going to suspend him without pay. I think they need to look at penalties on an individual basis, not just decide, 'Did he hit him in the head? Well, he needs to be fined.' I think it needs to be the intent to hurt, or how malicious the hit is. I think it's a little overboard."
Ravens coach John Harbaugh said these kind of fines have made his coaching approach to tackling different than what it used to be.
"The problem is that it is really hard for these guys at full speed, sometimes, to execute, and when you slow it down and look at it tight, there's no leeway there, which is understandable," Harbaugh said. "But physically, it's very difficult to be perfect at high speed."
During Sunday's win against Pittsburgh, Pollard had an opportunity to tackle quarterback Byron Leftwich, who was scrambling on a broken play down the right sideline.
Leftwich looked like he was running out of bounds, which caused Pollard to pull up and not run at full speed to make the tackle. At the last moment, Leftwich cut back upfield and ran past the rest of the Ravens defenders in the area for a touchdown.
Pollard admitted he pulled up because of the possibility he could be fined for hitting a quarterback that's looking to take a play out of bounds. In violent terms, he said that won't happen next time.
"If a quarterback is going to the sideline, and I have a chance, I swear to you I'm going to kill him," Pollard said.
To public knowledge, the Ravens have been fined a total of $134,625 this season. This includes the organization being fined $20,000 for not including Reed's torn labrum on the injury report and a previous $21,000 fine Reed was given for a helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Deion Branch during Baltimore's Week 3 game against the New England Patriots.
Though the NFL has donated these fined dollars to charitable causes, players aren't too keen on being fined for plays they don't believe warrant extra punishment.
At the end of the 2011 NFL lockout, the owners and the NFL Players Association signed a collective bargaining agreement that put in place the current disciplinary policy on how fines are handled. Pollard's beginning to think that area of the agreement needs another look.
"We wouldn't be talking about this if the system worked," Pollard said. "Obviously, the system's not working. You have to be careful on what you agree to. I don't want this to sound like an excuse that we just signed it to sign it. I'm pretty sure things were looked at and people went over it as deep as they could. But when it's all said and done it's not working right now. We need to get back to this thing and iron some things out."